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Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota hunters living outside the 11-county metropolitan area significantly outnumber those living within that urban perimeter, according to a Star Tribune analysis of state hunting-license holders.

The split, with about 62 percent of hunters residing outside the metro, is particularly noteworthy because only about 42 percent of Minnesotans now live outside the Twin Cities region.

That disparity suggests that hunting - long a tradition among many Minnesotans - might struggle as the urban area grows and more city dwellers try to find time and places to hunt.

Minneapolis, according to the analysis, had only about 2 percent of its residents purchase hunting licenses in 2003. St. Paul, with about 3 percent, fared little better.

By comparison, outstate towns such as Owatonna (where about 10 percent of residents purchased hunting licenses in 2003), Willmar (11 percent) and Hutchinson (15 percent) had higher percentages of hunters. And in tiny Barrett, population 355, in west-central Minnesota, about 37 percent of residents bought hunting licenses in 2003.

Yet in coming decades the growth of the metro is expected to outpace that of most small Minnesota towns. According to the Metropolitan Council, the Twin Cities and surrounding area will add about 1 million residents by 2030.

Some observers also believe that in less than 20 years, as much as 75 percent of the state's population will live in or near a corridor stretching between St. Cloud and Rochester.

Such changes would seem to make problematic any expansion of hunting among Minnesotans, and could contribute to its decline.

Also at stake amid these changes are conservation efforts that long have been initiated by hunters. Historically, hunters have been in the fight in the Legislature to foster stewardship of land, water and wildlife in the state.

Programs proposed and supported by hunters include the Reinvest in Minnesota program, which pays property owners to idle and restore certain lands, and state funding for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, or CREP, among others.

Passage of these initiatives has depended on the support of a majority of Minnesota legislators. But today, metro-area Minnesota House members - where relatively fewer hunters live - outnumber outstate House members, 78-56.

And in the Minnesota Senate, metro legislators hold the advantage, 43-24.

In many ways, hunting is flourishing in Minnesota.

More Minnesotans than ever hunt deer in the state. The same is true for wild turkeys and Canada geese.

Additionally, the business of selling equipment to hunters is booming in Minnesota, perhaps as it is nowhere else.

Cabela's, for example, in Owatonna is at once a retail sportsmen's store and wildly popular tourist destination.

What's more, the proportion of the state's residents who hunt has remained fairly constant. From 1960 to 1997, about 18 percent of Minnesota residents purchased hunting licenses, figured as part of the state's population through that period.

Minnesota hunters have overcome a lot - from farmland habitat destruction to the rise of the animal rights movement - to enjoy the status and opportunities they do. In part this is true because many people, no matter where they are born or grow up, seem naturally predisposed to become hunters.

Nevertheless, it's apparent urbanization and hunting don't mix.

Sprawl is one problem.

As farmland gives way to development, many species of wildlife suffer. Gone, too - as subdivisions leapfrog one another into the countryside - are hunting opportunities, because state law prohibits hunters from discharging guns within 500 feet of occupied buildings.

So each new home in the country not only displaces certain wildlife species, it also displaces hunters.

Yet it is the multitudinous opportunities and distractions that ultimately define urban life that might present the biggest threat to hunting in Minnesota.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, increasing numbers of Americans are too busy to hunt, or fish for that matter.

And city people are busiest of all.

In fact, a 1998 Minnesota Poll found that 54 percent of Minnesota parents are too busy to take their kids hunting. And about a third of parents said their kids are too busy to fish or hunt.

To counter these influences, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources this year has begun additional hunts targeted especially to youth. And hunting groups such as Pheasants Forever and Safari Club International have long offered education programs designed to expose kids of both rural and urban backgrounds to hunting and wildlife conservation.

The newspaper's analysis of hunting license sales among residents of Minnesota's 10 fastest-growing cities shows that the farther the city is from the metro core, the more popular hunting is.

Among Farmington residents in 2003, for instance, 12 percent purchased hunting licenses. Similarly, the figure in Prior Lake was 11 percent, and in Shakopee, just more than 8 percent.

In Eden Prairie, by comparison, 3.4 percent of residents purchased hunting licenses that year, and in Plymouth, 3.8 percent.

Will Craig, associate director of the University of Minnesota Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, said that urbanization is a natural tendency among humans, who band together for economic and social reasons.

Urban residents can be as outdoor-oriented as their rural counterparts, Craig said. But because open spaces are difficult to find in cities, and with them hunting opportunities, over time, outdoor activities in the city tend to morph away from hunting and toward "bike rides or sitting alongside a lake."

"But it's not only a lack of opportunity and access that hurt hunting in an urban environment," Craig said. "It's also a lack of what I call a 'stability of traditions' that is more commonplace in rural areas.

Craig said people in rural Minnesota communities can trace back multiple generations of hunters.

"Many people who live in the Twin Cities, on the other hand, have moved here from other cities. They might have traditions," Craig said. "But they often don't include hunting."


Information from: Star Tribune, http:// WWW.STARTRIBUNE.COM

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